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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories
i Australian instrument inventions
ii Plant protection - overseas and in Australia
iii Successes in the laboratory but . . .
iv Drugs for sheep and cattle revisited Tetramisole - international success and local manufacture
v 'Promicide'* 'Grenade'* to control ticks
vi Technical service R&D
vii Industry/CSIRO/university collaboration
viii Australian entrepreneurs in modern chemistry

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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Technical service R&D

The major polymer producers maintain technical service laboratories to assist their customers in the development of new processes. In most instances this technical product promotion is a process of commercial development, confidential to customers, hence usually not reported and visible only in new products. Inventions made were usually made available to the customer. A typical example was ICI Australia's technical service to polyurethane users (see also p 707). ICI produced one of the principal components of polyurethanes, polyols, and sought to fully utilise the capacity of their new Botany reactor; considerable effort was therefore spent on promotion of larger scale uses by customers.

One such invention[108] was 'continuous lamination', the continuous production of insulation panel boards (two rectangular panels with polyurethane insulation between them) for cool stores, commercial buildings, etc. A prototype machine was developed in Australia, but even at the prototype phase it became clear that a full scale machine would produce Australia's demand in a few weeks. The project was handed over to ICI UK who developed several elaborate versions of the plant, manufactured for some time and ultimately sub-licensed the process to polyurethane customers as 'technical service'. Another similar invention[109] based on the discovery that thermoplastics in the semiliquid state could be shaped by sharp 'fingers', pins or edges without tearing and could be deep-drawn more precisely and deeper than by vacuum forming, was licensed to plastics processors and led to a successful new entrepreneurial company, 'Hitek'.

A great deal of application research has been carried out in agriculture. The agrochemical companies, aiming at new markets, looked upon this work as technical service to their customers, the farmers. Usually the basic properties of the biological agent were known and local privately owned research stations explored optimum local uses. Very similar work, also aimed at support of the farming community, was carried out by the CSIRO and the Departments of Agriculture, although, of course, their objectives were broader: chemicals were but one of the areas of investigation and in many cases their work was of a more fundamental nature. Nevertheless, for supply of agrochemicals they relied on the large international companies and these studies by the private and the public sector research organisations were complementary.

In recent years undesirable effects on the environment of some agrochemicals have emerged, particularly of some broad spectrum biocides which had been used in excessive dosages. The private sector sought to replace these by more specifically acting and less toxic agents, and much public sector research was done to lower and limit dosages or replace chemicals by 'natural' biological control methods. CSIRO achieved some spectacular successes in this area, e.g. some decades ago with the control of prickly pear and in recent years with the breeding of aphid resistant varieties of lucerne. Nevertheless, in spite of much research -and publicity -these 'natural' methods are no more than just one additional approach. The overall economic importance of control of pests and weeds by proven chemicals, and of fertilisers remains the dominant factor of competitive farming. Chemical research worldwide and, particularly, in Australia has been and is a key element of agricultural development.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 691 - 961, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher